Commentary

We’re rural Democrats and we’re gonna try to listen to our Trumpy neighbors — wish us luck | Opinion

July 22, 2021 7:08 am

Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images.

Driving west on a family vacation to Colorado earlier this summer, it was very apparent that loyalty to former President Donald Trump remains strong in rural America. On farms, ranches, and small towns in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado, we saw many indicators: Trump 2024 flags (with the slogans “Make Votes Count Again” or “I’ll Be Back” on them); flags that read “Biden Sucks,” “F*** Biden,” “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Trump,” or “Trump Won”; and, a giant billboard along the interstate that declares, “God Bless Donald Trump.” 

Friends have reported seeing trailers selling Trump merchandise at several locations in South Dakota and Minnesota.

That this loyalty — perhaps the word “fealty” is more accurate — remains strong even after the January 6 insurrection is disheartening to Democrats like myself, to say the least. 

Is there any hope for rural America? Can it possibly flip blue?

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, seems to think so. In her book Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America,” she provides several strategies for Democrats in ruby red America. She implores us to find common ground, be authentic by telling our story, listen, and, most importantly — echoing Howard Dean — you gotta show up.

As a resident of rural Minnesota, I’ll be honest: Using these strategies will be a struggle. 

Listen? Listen to QAnon garbage and wacky conspiracy theories? I’m not sure I can stomach listening to that nonsense. And to what end? People so removed from facts and reality that they would believe this stuff cannot be reasoned with or shown the error of their beliefs with facts and statistics. And what if listening to these ridiculous theories somehow merely validates them as ideas worth listening to?

Find common ground? What common ground do I have with people who see no problem with locking immigrant children in cages at the southern border? Who proudly support a man who sexually assaults women and brags about it? Who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine because they think the virus is a hoax, or they will be implanted with a microchip or they will be marked with the sign of the beast? Can there be any common ground with such irrational and appalling beliefs?

But where does an attitude like this leave us? Republicans and Democrats continue to glare at each other over a great divide. Doing nothing does not fix the situation. 

In Lyon County — a rural, agricultural region in the southwest corner of the state — we will do what we can to bridge the divide here by following Kleeb’s advice. As members of the local Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, we will tell our stories, be authentic and try to find common ground. We will show up and we will listen.

Last year I wrote for the Reformer about what members of the Lyon County DFL experienced while staffing its pop-up tent in various towns around the county during the summer of 2020. I wrote of the abuse we received, but also of the acts of kindness shown to us. This summer we will be out with our tent in these communities again, more focused on spreading the overall Democratic message than promoting candidates. 

How will we be received this summer without an important election at stake? Will our attempts to build bridges be successful or be rebuffed with more acts of hostility and abuse?

I’m a realist. I do not expect to flip Lyon County blue, but I do hope to hear fewer insults and epithets, to see fewer middle fingers, and experience less abuse this summer compared to Summer 2020.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Anita Gaul
Anita Gaul

Anita Talsma Gaul is a community college instructor and currently serves as Chair of the Lyon County Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

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